January 25, 2019 / 7:17 PM / 3 months ago

Naspers takes full control of Russian classifieds website Avito

STOCKHOLM/FRANKFURT/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s Naspers has taken full control of Russia’s largest classified advertising platform Avito after it spent $1.16 billion to buy the 29.1 percent it did not already own, the media and e-commerce group said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Satellite dishes connect township residents to South Africa's DSTV television network, owned by telecommunications giant Naspers, in Khayelitsha township, Cape Town, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

Reuters had reported earlier on Friday that Naspers was nearing a deal to buyout minority shareholders in a transaction that could value Avito at about $4 billion.

Naspers said the deal, made through its classifieds business OLX Group, implied an enterprise value of about $3.85 billion and would boost its holding in the company from 70.4 percent to 99.6 percent, with Avito’s co-founders holding the rest.

“Avito is the leading online classifieds player in Russia and our decision to increase our stake reflects our belief in the long-term prospects of this great business and the Russian internet market,” Naspers Chief Executive Bob van Dijk said in the statement.

Online marketplaces in Russia have grown rapidly in the last few years, offering anything from food delivery and cleaning to private house construction services.

Avito was launched by entrepreneurs Jonas Nordlander and Filip Engelbert in 2007 as Russia’s answer to Craigslist and today owns and operates the country’s largest online classifieds website Avito.ru.

The company’s marketplace covers a range of categories including autos and real estate and attracts more than 32 million unique visitors a month, according to its website.

Naspers has transformed itself from a newspaper publisher into an $96 billion media empire by pushing into websites and e-commerce, holding stakes in Russian internet group Mail.Ru and Chinese social network firm Tencent.

The South African company invested in Avito in 2013 by buying a 17.4 percent stake, merging in its local classified businesses and injecting $50 million in cash. The transaction valued Avito at more than $570 million.

Naspers then raised its holding to 67.9 percent, valuing the company at $2.4 billion and leaving it with four minority investors.

Separately, Avito minority investor Vostok New Ventures said it had sold its 13.2 percent stake for $540 million. Its CEO Per Brilioth said Avito had produced an internal rate of return of some 37 percent for the investor that bought into the company when it was founded.

Naspers, which had $8.7 billion in cash as of the end of September primarily from the sale of Flipkart and Tencent shares, said the deal was funded by its existing cash resources and closed on Friday.

Reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg, additional reporting by Ekaterina Golubkova, editing by Louise Heavens

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